BMX Freestyle Park: a behind-the-scenes interview with Ryan Nyquist
In 2016 the UCI collaborated with Hurricane to stage the first edition of the UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Cup. What were your thoughts when that happened?
Ryan: Hurricane already organised the FISE World Tour, a very successful contest series that had been around for almost 20 years at that time, so I really didn’t have too many reservations about them working on the UCI BMX Freestyle World Cup. I just wanted things to keep progressing in a positive way.
When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to come to Montpellier in 2017 to see if BMX Freestyle Park would be a good fit for the Olympic Games, what did you think would happen?
Ryan: I really wasn’t sure. It could have gone either way. I think a lot of people were nervous that the IOC would not like our sport or not see how we could be part of the Olympics. On the other hand, if the Freestyle community really wanted to give them a great show, then the event in Montpellier was going to give them just that. There’s always a massive crowd, and the riding never disappoints. The energy there is amazing!
You ended up informing both IOC inspectors about anything they needed to know about BMX Freestyle during the finals. How was that experience?
Ryan: Yeah it was interesting how that all lined up. I was competing in multiple events and had sprained my ankle pretty badly before qualifying. I tried to make it happen but wasn’t able to ride the way I wanted, so I didn’t advance to the next round in Park. Instead, I was asked if I would like to meet the people from the IOC and talk them through our sport to give them an accurate glimpse into our culture. We had lunch together, walked around the venue (I hobbled, haha!), and we eventually made our way to the Park course to watch the men’s and women’s finals. Watching the event with them was really fun, and both the people from the IOC were fascinated by the event, the riding, and the riders. I explained the tricks, the thought process that goes into putting a run together, strategies, scoring, and anything else that could give them an insight into our sport and help them feel the passion that the riders put into their craft at an event like that. At the end of the event, there were lots of smiles and, overall, a good time was had by all parties. I was bummed about not being able to ride in the finals due to my ankle, but the opportunity to present our sport to the people who would be deciding if we would be a good fit for the Olympics, is something that I’m glad I could be a part of. Later, I was told that I made a huge impact on them, and their decision to include us in the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
What is in your opinion the biggest benefit of having BMX Freestyle Park as part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games?
Ryan: I think there are a lot of benefits we will see in the future, like growth of our sport and bringing it to a whole different audience. Right now, I’m really excited about the support athletes are getting from their countries to help them get to the events, and eventually to the Olympics. I’m also VERY happy that the Women of the Freestyle World are finally starting to get the attention and support they deserve. There is going to be so much growth and progression from them, and that’s going to be very exciting to watch.
With the first UCI World Cup in 2016, the inaugural World Championships in 2017, and now the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 it looks like things are expanding with the UCI on the Park side. What do you think of this development?
Ryan: I think it’s great, and necessary for the process of getting riders to the Olympics. More events are always a good thing for BMX, and the fact that these events are occurring all over the world is fantastic! All the bigger events used to be mainly based in the USA, and now there are events on five different continents. I’m excited to see what other events will start popping up at national level as well. There are a lot of good things on the horizon.
From 2018, existing or new Park events can be added to the UCI event calendar which gives riders an opportunity to score UCI individual ranking points. Do you think it was time to structure the BMX Freestyle calendar?
Ryan: Structure and Freestyle have been looked upon as two things that don’t mix, but I think they have always coexisted, especially on the event side of things. There used to be multiple-event series in different disciplines, with overall titles and points. These events were structured and were looked upon as great assets for our sport. The Olympic process is no different. There are points and titles and an end goal to ride on the biggest platform we’ve ever had. Keep in mind, this level of events probably effects 1-2% of the total BMX Freestyle population. You can still go into the woods and ride trails, or hit the streets with your buddies, or ride your local park. Nothing that’s happening now is going to change that. But it will provide amazing opportunities for the riders who want to be part of this level of competition.
With (local) events run in the same way as a UCI World Cup, riders have a chance to prepare for the big events. How much of an advantage is that?
Ryan: I think it’s great for riders who want to climb their way up the world rankings. If riders become accustomed to this type of competition and its format, we could see a whole generation pushing the level of riding to insane new levels. More events at local and digital level will also hugely benefit BMX Freestyle. Not every rider can hop on a plane to travel to an event. More events means more riders getting involved, which means growth for our sport.
The UCI rules and regulations aim to keep everything fair by regulating practice times, length of the runs, contest format, mechanical failure options, etc. Is this a good thing?
Ryan: Yes! We are talking about making an even playing field for all riders. Everyone practices exact, the same amount of time on the same days, takes the same number of runs during the competitions, and adheres to the same rules if they have trouble with their bikes. This truly allows for the best rider that day to come out on top.
Women riders haven't had it easy in BMX over the years. It looks like the UCI events have helped the female riders by providing more contest opportunities and some are even receiving more support than ever before?
Ryan: Yeah, that’s awesome! The women riders have given so much to advance their riding and show their love of and dedication to Freestyle. It’s insanely gratifying to see them have the same opportunities as the men, and to be recognised as a valuable part of the Freestyle community. I don’t think anyone can see anything negative about countries supporting women, so they can do what they love to do. It’s a massive plus! Like I said before, I’m beyond excited to see the progression in the next couple of years!
It's important to cater to the younger riders. One of the ways is the UCI BMX Freestyle App. Can you explain this to us?
Ryan: The UCI BMX Freestyle App has been in development for about two years now, and I see it as one of the most powerful tools that our sport has ever had. We live in a digital world, where riders are connecting across the planet to share their riding and make connections they might have never had the opportunity to make in the past. The App will allow riders to compete digitally at local, national and global level by uploading clips of themselves shredding and getting creative at their local spot or park. Depending on the event, the best riders will receive prizes or cash and / or UCI points. What that means is that now a rider can legitimately gain points towards climbing the global ranks, without traveling the world. It creates a clear path for a rider to make it to Elite level. Digital competitions will be judged by legitimate judges and industry icons, which means anyone with a smartphone could potentially be spotted and see their lives change. I’ve been excited about this opportunity for a long time, and it’s awesome to see it finally coming to life!
As an Athlete Representative and UCI BMX Freestyle Commission member you have participated in a couple of UCI meetings already. How does it feel being part of that?
Ryan: It’s a big responsibility actually and I’m not taking it lightly. I’m in a position to help guide the sport in a positive direction, while keeping the heart and soul of the sport we love so much intact. The UCI didn’t come with a lot of knowledge about our sport, but they didn’t pretend to know about it either. In fact, they came asking for help and guidance. They want our sport to remain as awesome as it has been in the past, and to make this transition into the Olympic realm as smooth as possible. They want to see BMX Freestyle grow. They’ve been receptive to my ideas, feedback, and criticism, and my experience with them has been very positive. No suits, no corporate takeover, no stranglehold on our sport.
How does it feel seeing buddies from different countries being involved with the development of BMX Freestyle in their own countries through their respective National Federations?
Ryan: It’s like a big reunion at the events now! Hahaha! I used to compete against a lot of these guys, so it's really great seeing them transition into positions that can help further our sport in their countries. There’s a whole generation of riders who are being leaned on by their nations to help guide them and inform them about our sport, including ex-professionals and industry icons.
BMX Flatland has just been added to the UCI programme. What do you think about that?
Ryan: I’m not really involved, as my experience is in Park. The flatlanders who are involved, are major players and I trust them to make the right calls, create the proper rules and formats, and guide the sport in a direction to help it grow. I think they saw the benefit of being part of the UCI as well.
Where do you see BMX Freestyle going from here?
Ryan: My hope is to see some life being breathed back into the sport at grassroots level. BMX has been hit hard in recent years, and we need more kids on bikes, and more things for those kids to do on their bikes to help local scenes thrive and grow. That will hopefully allow the shops to thrive as well. We need more jams, local contests, ride days, youth clinics, and family outings hosted not only by local bike shops, but also by passionate individuals who share the love of BMX. All these things need to happen on a larger scale. More fun on bikes! When this happens, I think we will see the industry thrive as well, which will help the companies that are truly committed to our sport. I look at it as a “trickle up” effect. We need to build a strong foundation at grassroots level to ensure a bright future for BMX Freestyle.